Dantikā Sees an Elephant
Recently I was introduced to a beautiful book of poetry by Matty Weingast called The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns. It's a poetic retelling of the verses in the Therīgāthā or Poems of the Elder Nuns. This is a collection of short poems, dating from around 600 BCE to 300 BCE and first written down around 80 BCE. What is so fascinating is that we get a beautiful and intimate view onto the lives of the nuns at that time - and it won't surprise you to know that many of their joys, struggles and achievements feel fresh and relevant to us today.
One of the poems that struck me in the book was "Dantikā and the Elephant." Here is Ajahn Ṭhānissaro's translation of the same poem:
Coming out from my day’s abidingThere is so much to learn from this small but deep poem, and I would encourage you to meditate on it for a while. What struck me first was that having spent much time meditating on the mountain it was a mundane observation that caused her insight. Now for you and I if we walked in the woods and saw an elephant that would be a huge deal! But I am assuming for Dantikā it wasn't so unusual. What struck her was the relationship between the man and the elephant. And having spent the day meditating the insight of the relationship she had with her mind was particularly enlightening. As she says, this is why she'd gone to the woods in the first place.
on Vulture Peak Mountain,
I saw on the bank of the riveran elephantemerged from its plunge.
A man holding a hook requested:“Give me your foot.”The elephantextended its foot.The mangot up on the elephant.Seeing what was untrained now tamed
brought under human control,
with that I centered my mind—why I’d gone to the woodsin the first place.
We often think of the meditation cushion as a special, separate place where we can work with our minds. And of course, in many ways it is - but just as important as the cushion is what happens when we get up off of it. In the woods Dantikā learned about her relationship with her mind from observing a man and an elephant. Our learning, our insight continues when we go to the woods, go to the store or walk down the street.
Wishing you all insight in the coming week,
I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on working with our thoughts. You can of course listen at any time, but a few of us have committed to press play together at 7pm PT Sunday 30th August. You are welcome to join with us if you wish.
If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.